x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Syria ready to make up with Lebanese critic

Syria is ready to meet with a Lebanese politician who has been one of its harshest critics in order to restart relations with him.

BEIRUT // Syria is ready to meet with a Lebanese politician who has been one of its harshest critics in recent years and open a new page in relations, days after he said his comments about Damascus were "improper," the militant Hizbollah group said. A reconciliation between Walid Jumblatt, leader of Lebanon's Druse sect, and Damascus could boost Syria's role in Lebanese politics years after its troops were forced out of the country. It will also probably weaken the western-backed coalition that Jumblatt once helped lead until he split with them in August.

Lebanon's Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has been mediating between the Syrians and Jumblatt for several months. A Hizbollah statement released late yesterday said Mr Nasrallah informed Jumblatt that Syria "will overcome" what happened in the past and open a new page. It added that Syrian President Bashar Assad will receive Mt Jumblatt in the near future. Mr Jumblatt's harshest verbal attack against Mr Assad came on February 2007 when he told a crowd of tens of thousands of supporters that Mr Assad was a "snake" and a "tyrant" and called for revenge against him.

The Hizbollah statement said the Syrian decision came after Mr Jumblatt's "clear stance and courageous review" of his comments. After the Hizbollah announcement, Mr Jumblatt told Syria's Al Watan newspaper, which is privately owned but guided by government policy, "the old page has been turned forever." Jumblatt, 60, was the main force behind the creation of a Western-backed alliance that led massive street protests to demand the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon following the February 14, 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Many Lebanese blamed Syria for his death, a claim Damascus denies. The Syrians pulled their army out of Lebanon in April 2005, ending nearly three decades of domination of their smaller neighbour. Asked when he expects to visit Damascus, Mr Jumblatt told Al Watan that "there is no specific date yet but I am waiting to go to Syria because I have a lot to say to President Assad." "The most important thing is to forget the past and open a new page," he said.

* AP